New digital departure board at NY Penn Station

Inside the Penn Station control center

In an undisclosed location in Manhattan, about 15 people staff the joint control center for Amtrak and MTA Long Island Railroad’s 21 tracks at New York Pennsylvania Station.

With responsibility for intercity and commuter rail operations on Amtrak’s network between Pennsylvania and upstate New York, personnel do everything from making track assignments to dispatching locomotives to rescue a stranded train.

Video screens in the darkened room display the location of Amtrak, LIRR, MTA Metro-North Railroad, and NJ TRANSIT trains, each of which shows up as a blinking yellow rectangle.  Flashing blue lines and red rectangles represent the tracks and junctions currently out of service during Amtrak’s ongoing track repair program.  During rush hours, the dispatchers handle 1,300 trains running two minutes apart — leaving them too busy to take a restroom break, according to Steven Young, deputy general manager of Penn Station.

The control center was built in 1994 and is connected to Penn Station with a series of relay cables. Amtrak can’t afford to replace the cables with microprocessors.

And where’s NJ Transit? The agency has a large presence at Penn Station and was initially invited to be part of the control center.  But because the agency could not contribute funds toward the construction, NJ Transit has an office outside the control center with visiting privileges but no authority to dispatch trains. Link to full story in

Photo credit: Susan Mara Bregman

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